DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East returns to Watkins Glen (New York) International for the first time in five years, 21-year-old Sergio Peña looks to be hitting his stride.
After beginning the season with mixed results, three top 10s through the series’ first 10 events, Peña turned in his best two performances of 2014: a victory in the JEGS 150 presented by Germain Toyota on July 19 at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway, his first series victory in nearly three years, and a fourth-place finish in the Autolite Iridium XP 150 at Iowa Speedway on Aug. 1.
“I think the main thing is all my guys not giving up on me,” said Peña about his recent turn-around. “Everyone’s been working so hard in the shop and it was frustrating for us at the beginning of the season. It’s a new group and it seems like it took some time to get everything figured out, but it I think we’ve got it figured out now.”
With a victory and two top fives in his last two events, Peña, who drives the No. 4 Toyota Racing Development Toyota for Rev Racing as a part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program, now turns his attention to the next two series events and a return to road course racing, an area in which he feels very comfortable.
“Growing up that’s what I raced,” said Peña about running on road courses. “I started racing go karts when I was seven and that was strictly road courses and I also ran formula cars on road courses. That’s my whole entire background, I have more road course racing experience than I do oval racing experience and I thank that advantage is going to be huge with the next two races coming up at Watkins Glen and Virginia International Raceway.”
In three career K&N Pro Series events on road courses, the Winchester, Virginia, native has two top 10s at Brainerd (Minnesota) International Raceway and Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut.
“I’m so, so excited for the next two races,” continues Peña. “I’m really looking forward to these two races. I would say I’m more excited for these two races than any other ones on the schedule.”
Peña, who was only 16 the last time the series visited Watkins Glen, hopes that his excitement and previous road course experience translate to success this weekend at a track he’s dreamed about racing on since he first got into the sport.
“Watkins Glen is a track I’ve wanted to race on since I was a little kid running go karts. It’s one of the tracks I’d always pick when I was playing racing video games. I know it’s going to be tough to pass there, but I’m excited. Fast straightaways going into tight corners is what road course racing is all about.”
The Race: The Bully Hill Vineyards 125 will be the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East’s 15th visit to the track since 1993 and first trip since the 2009 season. It is the 13th of 16 events on the 2014 schedule and the first of two road course races on the calendar.
The Procedure: The maximum starting field is 32 cars, including provisionals. The first 28 cars will have secured starting positions through NASCAR Road Race style group qualifying and the remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race is scheduled for 51 laps (125.124 miles/200.246 kilometers). This is the first time the event will run 51 laps.
The Track: Watkins Glen International was established on the streets of Watkins Glen, New York, in 1948 when law student Cameron Argetsinger dreamed of bringing European style competition to the village where he spent his summer vacations and he drew up a challenging course that encompassed asphalt, cement and dirt roads in and around the village of Watkins Glen. It has hosted a total of 14 K&N Pro Series East events since 1993 and its current short course configuration is eight turns for a total of 2.454 miles.
The Records: The qualifying record was established on June 9, 2008 by Antonio Pérez at 118.831 mph (74.223 seconds). The Bully Hill Vineyards 125 will be the first time the event will span 51-miles.
Watkins Glen Race Notes:
European Invasion: Two-time defending NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion Ander Vilariño will make his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East 2014 debut. The San Sebastián, Spain, native ran in the inaugural Battle at the Beach at Daytona International Speedway in 2013. Vilariño, who is currently second in the Euro Series championship standings, will be joined by 2013 championship runner-up Frédéric Gabillon, who will be making his first series start. The Whelen Euro Series 2014 schedule consists of 12 events, with the only oval track being the newly constructed Tours Speedway in Tours, France.
Double Duty For Ranger: Quebec, Canada, native Andrew Ranger will look to add two more road course victories to his NASCAR resume. Ranger, who is running full-time in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1, will run Friday night’s Bully Hill Vineyards 125 at Watkins Glen International before heading up to Circuit Trois-Rivières in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 JuliaWine.com Le 50 Tours event on Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 9-10. In 14 K&N Pro Series East events, Ranger has one win, one pole, three top fives and five top 10s. His victory in the series came at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut, a 1.530-mile road course. Ranger has 13 road course victories in the Canadian Tire Series.
Dillon Joins K&N Field: Austin Dillon, K&N Pro Series East alum and current driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is one of the 27 vehicles entered for Friday night’s event. Dillon, who was the championship runner-up in 2008, has one win, seven top fives and 12 top 10s in 15 East series races. He also has two K&N Pro Series West races in his career, the second coming earlier this season at the road course in Sonoma (California).
New Track For Many: 17-year-old series points leader Ben Rhodes was 11 the last time the K&N Pro Series East ran at Watkins Glen International. Turner Scott Motorsport teammate Kaz Grala was nine. In fact, none of the K&N Pro Series East regulars currently entered for Friday’s Bully Hill Vineyards 125 have ever run on the 2.454-mile road course in upstate New York.
HOME TRACKS: Heywood Paces New York Standings
Through July 27, rookie Nick Heywood leads the New York contingent in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I standings. Travis Bruno, also competing at Airborne Park Speedway out of Plattsburgh, is second followed by Stewart Friesen who races at Utica Rome Speedway in third. NASCAR Next driver and defending NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Ryan Preece, who races at Riverhead Speedway in Long Island, is 11th in the overall state standings.
LAST TIME OUT: Autolite Iridium XP 150 at Iowa Speedway
Brandon Jones kept the trend of new winners at Iowa Speedway going, picking up his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series win in the series’ 12th event of the season. He became the 11th different winner in 11 meetings at Iowa between the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West. Kenzie Ruston who started the race from the 16th position, eclipsed her own mark of third-place — which she did twice, most recently at Virginia’s Langley Speedway earlier this year — as the highest finishing female in series history. Earlier in the day, Jesse Little won his first series pole award, becoming the 11th different driver to lead the field to green at Iowa.
NEXT TIME OUT: Virginia International Raceway
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will get on the road again on Aug. 16 when it visits the 2.25-mile road course at Virginia International Raceway for the Biscuitville 125.